HPV, the human papillomavirus, is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) affecting approximately 20 million people in the United States. Each year, about 21,000 women and 12,000 men are infected. HPV are a group of more than 150 related viruses of which more than 40 of these viruses can easily be spread through direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal and oral sex. Most people who become infected with HPV do not know they have it, or that they are passing the virus on to a sex partner. While rare, it is possible for a pregnant woman to pass HPV on to her baby during delivery. It is also possible for a person to have HPV even if years have passed since he or she had sexual contact with an infected person.
Sexually transmitted HPV’s fall into two categories, low risk HPV’s which do not cause cancer and high risk HPV’s which can cause cancer. The low risk HPV’s are technically known as condylomata acuminate, are on or around the genitals or anus, and come from the HPV types 6 and 11, causing 90 percent of all genital warts. The high risk HPV’s (oncogenic HPV) the two primarily responsible for the majority of HPV caused cancers are HPV type 16 and 18. Researchers believe that it can take between 10 to 20 years from the time of an initial HPV infection until a tumor forms. The high risk HPV infections account for approximately 5 percent of all cancers worldwide.
In recent years, HPV infections have been found to cause oropharynx (oral) cancer which primarily affects the middle part of the throat including the soft palate, base of the tongue and the tonsils and is linked to HPV 16. The incidence of HPV associated oral cancer has increased during the past 20 years, especially among men. It has been estimated that by 2020, HPV will cause more oral cancers than cervical cancer in the United States.
HPV infections can be detected by testing a sample of cells taken from any part of the body. It is important to know that there are no FDA approved tests to detect HPV infection in men and no current recommended screening methods to detect HPV. Clear, honest and thorough discussions with your healthcare provider are crucial especially during the testing phase for an accurate diagnosis to be made. There are no current medical treatments for HPV infections; however genital warts and pre-cancerous HPV lesions can be treated. The most effective way to prevent infection is to avoid any skin to skin oral, anal, or genital contact with another person. Research shows that correct and consistent use of condoms can reduce the transmission of HPV; however areas not covered by a condom can be infected by the virus. HPV vaccines are also available.
By Being Latino Contributor, Maria G. Rodriguez, RN, BSN, CHHC, www.connectmymindbodyandspirit.com